Barstool Sports Invitational | Wednesday, November 8 at Wintrust Arena in ChicagoTICKETS NOW AVAILABLE

The Plan Comes Together: Mac Jones is Reverting to His Rookie Form in Bill O'Brien's System

We're just eight sessions into Patriots training camp, with their annual ticketed Friday night practice in Gillette coming up later on. And like every other team at this stage of the process, they are a work in progress. Every player on the roster and every unit on the team has had good days and bad. It's a learning curve for everyone. And like Bill Belichick has said from Day 1, it's about improving every time out and stringing good days together. So it would be premature if not downright amateurish to declare that any part of this has a success so far. 

Therefore, that's exactly what I'm about to do. 

I say again, the most important acquisition in the NFL this year was the Pats adding Bill O'Brien. Which is precisely what I was asking them to do as far back as mid-January of 2022, when they were just about to lose Josh McDaniels:

[I]t's not like it will be the end of the world. … At least with him, there is an obvious and immediate replacement. If he were to give his his two-weeks notice, Belichick would invite him to take a seat, press "1" on his desk phone speed dial, and as it get picked up on the first ring say, "Hey Nick. Yeah, that's why I'm calling. How soon can you get him on flight?" 

Not only has Bill O'Brien run the Patriots Erhardt-Perkins system better than it's ever been run (2007-2011), he just spent a year being immersed in the very same college system Mac Jones was weaned on. Bringing him back would be the no-braineriest of no-brainers. 

I stand by that. If this McDaniels thing does happen, I'd have O'Brien here taking meetings with Jones by tomorrow.

It took a year longer than I wanted. One long, disastrous year. But sometimes it's not the journey, it's getting to the destination. The important point is that Jones is starting to thrive, just as I thought he would 18 months ago.That much is undeniable:

Source - NFL folks will tell you that while Jones still has a long way to go before he establishes himself as a high-end face-of-the-franchise starter, what he did as a rookie was impressive. Not just based on the fact that his team won 10 games and made the playoffs. Not based on his numbers. 

But because he stepped into a complex system and handled it. 

"He ran that offense," said one AFC offensive assistant. "It was a pared-down version of what they were doing with Tom (Brady), but there was still a lot to it. And he deserves credit for being able to run it. That's not easy for a young quarterback."

"With Josh he looked good," said an NFC offensive coordinator. "On a mediocre football team he looked solid. Very few quarterbacks have played well early in Josh's system. Because it's hard. It puts a lot on the quarterback. Derek Carr didn't play well. St Louis (in 2011) was a wreck. It's impressive [Jones] went in and played well right away. He sees the game. He understands the tools he had at his disposal. You can tell he's a smart kid. He has that."

The ownership over the Patriots offense in 2021 is something he's starting to flash in this summer's training camp. On Thursday, he made a series of hand signals and apparent adjustments at the line of scrimmage in the red zone. Once the ball was snapped, he dropped quickly, knew his read, found Kendrick Bourne on a deep out-route, and put his team on the goal line.

The ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage was something Jones was encouraged to do as a rookie from the moment he began working with McDaniels. That was something the coaching staff wanted him to do less last summer as a new offense was installed with Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge leading the way.


Giphy Images.

The plan from the very first practice has been to throw a variety of challenges at Jones and make them harder as we go along:

At the beginning, it was all goal line work, with his receivers struggling to gain separation and Jones having to find them in confined spaces. As we've gone along, they've added pages to the playbook and, like the article says, give the QB more leeway to adjust at the line. By yesterday, they further handicapped him by replacing his top receivers with rookies and depth guys, and sent them up against Steve Belichick's starting defense. Like taking swings with a weighted bat or Mick tying a string around Rocky's ankles to teach him balance. And the results have been good and only gotten better. Including getting production from the rookie I've been most looking forward to seeing since they took him on the last day of the draft:

Since you've already said it in your head 30 times so far as you've read this, I'll admit it too: This is only practice. I get it. We'll know a little more if/when he gets into preseason games. And even then we can only draw impressions, not conclusions. You don't need to remind me again.

But it's perfectly reasonable to compare Jones after eight practices in 2023 to Jones after eight practices in 2022. This time last year, the problems with Patricia's and Judge's lack of a coherent system were apparent. Jones frustration was already simmering, and later we saw it go to full boil. And with good reason. They had no idea what they were doing. And their learning curve was so flat you could've used it to level shelves. As Jones himself explains in the same article from above:

"OB lays out the operation times, what we're trying to get out of a play, all that stuff, the why behind a play," Jones said….

I do think that this system allows a quarterback – it puts a lot on their plate. But it also allows us to know what to do to play really fast. I think it's a great system."

This is all any of us can ask for. A cerebral, analytical QB who's best asset is his ability to process information, paired with a coach and a system that puts a premium on those very things, and takes advantage of the signal caller's skill set. 

I know the conventional wisdom is still to doubt Jones. To claim he's got a rag arm and he's too immobile and all that. Like his rookie year and his undefeated National Championship season at Alabama never happened. You can choose to ignore how much he was done dirty by Patricia's and Judge's incompetence last year. But do so at your own peril. I choose hope.